Category Archives: Doctors of the Church

Easter – Pope St Leo the Great

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–Saint Leo Magnus by Francisco Herrera the Younger, in the Prado Museum, Madrid

I. The Cross is not only the mystery of salvation, but an example to follow

The whole of the Easter mystery, dearly-beloved, has been brought before us in the Gospel narrative, and the ears of the mind have been so reached through the ear of flesh that none of you can fail to have a picture of the events: for the text of the Divinely-inspired story has clearly shown the treachery of the LORD Jesus Christ’s betrayal, the judgment by which He was condemned, the barbarity of His crucifixion, and glory of His resurrection.

But a sermon is still required of us, that the priests’ exhortation may be added to the solemn reading of Holy Writ, as I am sure you are with pious expectation demanding of us as your accustomed due. Because, therefore, there is no place for ignorance in faithful ears, the seed of the Word, which consists of the preaching of the Gospel, ought to grow in the soil of your heart, so that, when choking thorns and thistles have been removed, the plants of holy thoughts and the buds of right desires may spring up freely into fruit. For the cross of Christ, which was set up for the salvation of mortals, is both a mystery and an example: a sacrament whereby the Divine power takes effect, an example whereby man’s devotion is excited: for to those who are rescued from the prisoner’s yoke, Redemption further procures the power of following the way of the cross by imitation. For if the world’s wisdom so prides itself in its error that everyone follows the opinions and habits and whole manner of life of him whom he has chosen as his leader, how shall we share in the name of Christ, save by being inseparably united to Him, Who is, as He Himself asserted, “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” [John 14:6] – the Way that is of holy living, the Truth of Divine doctrine, and the Life of eternal happiness?

II. Christ took our nature upon Him for our salvation

For when the whole body of mankind had fallen in our first parents, the merciful GOD purposed so to succour, through His only-begotten Jesus Christ, His creatures made after His image, that the restoration of our nature should not be effected apart from it, and that our new estate should be an advance upon our original position. Happy, if we had not fallen from that which GOD made us; but happier, if we remain that which He has re-made us. It was much to have received form from Christ; it is more to have a substance in Christ. For we were taken up into its own proper self by that Nature (which condescended to those limitations which loving-kindness dictated and which yet incurred no sort of change).

We were taken up by that Nature, which destroyed not what was His in what was ours, nor what was ours in what was His; which made the person of the Godhead and of the Manhood so one in Itself that by coordination of weakness and power, the flesh could not be rendered inviolable through the Godhead, nor the Godhead passible through the flesh.

We were taken up by that Nature, which did not break off the Branch from the common stock of our race, and yet excluded all taint of the sin which has passed upon all men. That is to say, weakness and mortality, which were not sin, but the penalty of sin, were undergone by the Redeemer of the World in the way of punishment, that they might be reckoned as the price of redemption. What therefore in all of us is the heritage of condemnation, is in Christ “the mystery of godliness.”

For being free from debt, He gave Himself up to that most cruel creditor, and suffered the hands of Jews to be the devil’s agents in torturing His spotless flesh. Which flesh He willed to be subject to death, even up to His (speedy) resurrection, to this end, that believers in Him might find neither persecution intolerable, nor death terrible, by the remembrance that there was no more doubt about their sharing His glory than there was about His sharing their nature.

III. The presence of the risen and ascended LORD is still with us

And so, dearly-beloved, if we unhesitatingly believe with the heart what we profess with the mouth, in Christ we are crucified, we are dead, we are buried; on the very third day, too, we are raised. Hence the Apostle says,

“If ye have risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting on GOD’S right hand: set your affections on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in GOD. For when Christ, your life, shall have appeared, then shall ye also appear with Him in glory.” [Colossians 3:1-4]

But that the hearts of the faithful may know that they have that whereby to spurn the lusts of the world and be lifted to the wisdom that is above, the LORD promises us His presence, saying, “Lo! I am with you all the days, even [until] the end of the age” [Matthew 28:20]. For not in vain had the Holy Ghost said by Isaiah: “Behold! a virgin shall conceive and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Emmanuel, which is, being interpreted, GOD with us” [Isaiah 7:14]. Jesus, therefore, fulfills the proper meaning of His name, and in ascending into the heavens does not forsake His adopted brethren, though “He sitteth at the right hand of the Father,” yet dwells in the whole body, and Himself from above strengthens them for patient waiting while He summons them upwards to His glory.

IV. We must have the same mind as was in Christ Jesus

We must not, therefore, indulge in folly amid vain pursuits, nor give way to fear in the midst of adversities. On the one side, no doubt, we are flattered by deceits, and on the other weighed down by troubles; but because “the earth is full of the mercy of the LORD” [Psalm 33:5], Christ’s victory is assuredly ours, that what He says may be fulfilled, “Fear not, for I have overcome the world” [John 16:33]. Whether, then, we fight against the ambition of the world, or against the lusts of the flesh, or against the darts of heresy, let us arm ourselves always with the LORD’S Cross. For our Paschal feast will never end, if we abstain from the leaven of the old wickedness [cf 1 Corinthians 5:8] (in the sincerity of truth). For amid all the changes of this life, which is full of various afflictions, we ought to remember the Apostle’s exhortation; whereby he instructs us, saying,

“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus: Who being in the form of GOD counted it not robbery to be equal with GOD, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bondservant, being made in the likeness of men and found in fashion as a man. Wherefore GOD also exalted Him, and gave Him a name which is above every name, that in the name of Jesus every knee should bow of things in heaven, of things on earth, and of things below, and that every tongue should confess that the LORD Jesus Christ is in the glory of GOD the Father.” [Philippians 2:5-11]

If, he says, you understand “the mystery of great godliness,” and remember what the Only-begotten Son of GOD did for the salvation of mankind, “have that mind in you which was also in Christ Jesus,” Whose humility is not to be scorned by any of the rich, not to be thought shame of by any of the high-born. For no human happiness whatever can reach so great a height as to reckon it a source of shame to himself that GOD, abiding in the form of GOD, thought it not unworthy of Himself to take the form of a slave.

V. Only he who holds the truth of the Incarnation can keep Easter properly

Imitate what He wrought: love what He loved, and finding in you the Grace of GOD, love in Him your nature in return, since as He was not dispossessed of riches in poverty, lessened not glory in humility, lost not eternity in death, so do ye, too, treading in His footsteps, despise earthly things that ye may gain heavenly: for the taking up of the cross means the slaying of lusts, the killing of vices, the turning away from vanity, and the renunciation of all error. For, though the LORD’S Passover can be kept by no immodest, self-indulgent, proud, or miserly person, yet none are held so far aloof from this festival as heretics, and especially those who have wrong views on the Incarnation of the Word, either disparaging what belongs to the Godhead nor treating what is of the flesh as unreal.

For the Son of GOD is true GOD, having from the Father all that the Father is, with no beginning in time, subject to no sort of change, undivided from the One GOD, not different from the Almighty, the eternal Only-begotten of the eternal Father; so that the faithful intellect believing in the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost in the same essence of the one Godhead, neither divides the Unity by suggesting degrees of dignity, nor confounds the Trinity by merging the Persons in one.

But it is not enough to know the Son of GOD in the Father’s nature only, unless we acknowledge Him in what is ours without withdrawal of what is His own. For that self-emptying, which He underwent for man’s restoration, was the dispensation of compassion, not the loss of power. For, though by the eternal purpose of GOD there was “no other name under heaven given to men whereby they must be saved” [Acts 4:12], the Invisible made His substance visible, the Intemporal temporal, the Impassible passible: not that power might sink into weakness, but that weakness might pass into indestructible power.

VI. A mystical application of the term “Passover” is given

For which reason the very feast which by us is named Pascha, among the Hebrews is called Phase, that is Pass-over [cf Exodus 12:11], as the evangelist attests, saying, “Before the feast of Pascha, Jesus knowing that His hour was come that He should pass out of this world unto the Father” [John 13:1]. But what was the nature in which He thus passed out unless it was ours, since the Father was in the Son and the Son in the Father inseparably? But because the Word and the Flesh is one Person, the Assumed is not separated from the Assuming nature, and the honour of being promoted is spoken of as accruing to Him that promotes, as the Apostle says in a passage we have already quoted, “Wherefore also GOD exalted Him and gave Him a name which is above every name.” Where the exaltation of His assumed Manhood is no doubt spoken of, so that He in Whose sufferings the Godhead remains indivisible is likewise coeternal in the glory of the Godhead. And to share in this unspeakable gift the LORD Himself was preparing a blessed “passing over” for His faithful ones, when on the very threshold of His Passion he interceded not only for His Apostles and disciples but also for the whole Church, saying, “But not for these only I pray, but for those also who shall believe on Me through their word, that they all may be one, as Thou also, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in us” [John 17:20-21].

VII. Only true believers can keep the Easter Festival

In this union they can have no share who deny that in the Son of GOD, Himself true GOD, man’s nature abides, assailing the health-giving mystery and shutting themselves out from the Easter festival. For, as they dissent from the Gospel and gainsay the creed, they cannot keep it with us, because although they dare to take to themselves the Christian name, yet they are repelled by every creature who has Christ for his Head: for you rightly exult and devoutly rejoice in this sacred season as those who, admitting no falsehood into the Truth, have no doubt about Christ’s Birth according to the flesh, His Passion and Death, and the Resurrection of His body: inasmuch as without any separation of the Godhead you acknowledge a Christ, Who was truly born of a Virgin’s womb, truly hung on the wood of the cross, truly laid in an earthly tomb, truly raised in glory, truly set on the right hand of the Father’s majesty; “whence also,” as the Apostle says, “we look for a Saviour our LORD Jesus Christ. Who shall refashion the body of our humility to become conformed to the body of His glory” [Philippians 3:20, 21]. Who liveth and reigneth, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.

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*Leo the Great. (1895). Sermons. In P. Schaff & H. Wace (Eds.), C. L. Feltoe (Trans.), Leo the Great, Gregory the Great (Vol. 12a, pp. 184–186). New York: Christian Literature Company.

Love & Happy Easter!!!,
Matthew

Easter – Death, where is your sting? Grave, where is your victory? -St John Chrysostom

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“Let all Pious men and all lovers of God rejoice in the splendor of this feast; let the wise servants blissfully enter into the joy of their Lord; let those who have borne the burden of Lent now receive their pay, and those who have toiled since the first hour, let them now receive their due reward; let any who came after the third hour be grateful to join in the feast, and those who may have come after the sixth, let them not be afraid of being too late, for the Lord is gracious and He receives the last even as the first. He gives rest to him who comes on the eleventh hour as well as to him who has toiled since the first: yes, He has pity on the last and He serves the first; He rewards the one and is generous to the other; He repays the deed and praises the effort.

Come you all: enter into the joy of your Lord. You the first and you the last, receive alike your reward; you rich and you poor, dance together; you sober and you weaklings, celebrate the day; you who have kept the fast and you who have not, rejoice today. The table is richly loaded: enjoy its royal banquet. The calf is a fatted one: let no one go away hungry. All of you enjoy the banquet of faith; all of you receive the riches of His goodness.

Let no one grieve over his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed; let no one weep over his sins, for pardon has shone from the grave; let no one fear death, for the death of our Savior has set us free: He has destroyed it by enduring it, He has despoiled Hades by going down into its kingdom, He has angered it by allowing it to taste of His flesh.

When Isaiah foresaw all this, he cried out: “O Hades, you have been angered by encountering Him in the nether world.” Hades is angered because it is frustrated, it is angered because it has been mocked, it is angered because it has been destroyed, it is angered because it has been reduced to naught, it is angered because it is now captive. It seized a body, and lo! it discovered God; it seized earth, and, behold! it encountered heaven; it seized the visible, and was overcome by the invisible.

O death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory? Christ is risen and life is freed, Christ is risen and the tomb is emptied of the dead: for Christ, being risen from the dead, has become the Leader and Reviver of those who had fallen asleep. To Him be glory and power for ever and ever. Amen.” -Paschal Homily of St. John Chrysostom, Doctor of the Church, Doctor of Preachers

Love,
Matthew

Sheep Among Wolves – St Thomas Aquinas, OP, Doctor of the Church

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-Flock of sheep surprised by the storm (1839 ), Eugene Verboeckhoven, Brussels, Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium.

“‘Thomas! Thomas!’ two snickering friars called, rousing their brother who was bent over his books. ‘Look out the window—there are pigs flying about in the sky!’ Thomas rose at once and bounced to the window incredulously. The friars laughed. Putting the finishing touch on the jest, the saint responded, ‘I would rather believe that pigs can fly than believe that my brethren could lie.’
—Sean Fitzpatrick, “Thomas Aquinas’s Secret To Sainthood”

“Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves.”
—Matthew 10:16

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-by Erin Cain

“Thomas Aquinas was a most impressive man by all accounts. He is remembered primarily for his intellectual prowess and extensive writings, but one of his greatest qualities was in fact his incredible humility. Even in the midst of theological debate, when others would disagree with him, he was never known to say an unkind word to anyone and was gracious even toward his enemies. He never let pride take root within him, and as a consequence he was sometimes mocked for his innocence and naïveté. The quote above describes an instance where other friars, in a mean-spirited sort of way, tricked him so that they could laugh at his gullibility. Weaker men might have responded in anger, or by despairing in themselves and believing the mockery of others. But Thomas was grounded in the word of God, and therefore he was not inclined to turn to anger or resentment but rather appeal to a sense of brotherhood. God gave Thomas the strength to turn the other cheek, and in his own goodness and innocence he modeled a Christlike attitude toward others.

This lesson can be hard to remember when we find ourselves in situations like the one Thomas was in. What happens when we put our trust in others, when we see them as brothers and sisters in Christ—and they let us down? What happens when they respond to our generosity with greed, to our meekness with arrogance, to our mercy with guile?

While it is difficult and humbling to find that someone else has broken our trust, we cannot let it keep us from trusting anyone again. We can be smart in our interactions with others and we can separate ourselves from people who we know to be negative influences on us, but we don’t need to be hard-hearted, and we cannot dwell on how we have been wronged. If we find ourselves becoming cynical or jaded, we need to turn to Christ for healing, remember that only He can truly read our hearts and those of others, and reclaim a sense of joy. And if we find ourselves discouraged, we must not despair: for even Christ Himself put His trust in a man who ultimately betrayed Him. It is not our fault if others choose to take advantage of us in our kindness. The God of Justice oversees all that we keep hidden, and it is not for us to settle the score.

These experiences can make us smarter in dealing with future situations, but they should not scare us away from being charitable, from assuming the best of others and giving them the benefit of the doubt. Ultimately, we are called to follow the will of God, to love our neighbor, and to make ourselves humble—trusting that whatever the consequences in this life, we are doing what is right. Often, when we show kindness and empathy towards others even in difficult situations, we soften their own hearts. We cannot allow the negative actions of a few to sour us toward everyone—instead, we must embrace the radiant joy of Christ in all circumstances and spread it to all those we meet. Gradually, we will learn to be as shrewd as serpents, but we must take care to maintain the innocence and sincerity of a dove—and we can always remember to pray to the ever-humble St. Thomas Aquinas to guide us along the way.”

“I would rather suffer the occasional infidelity than surrender my faith in humanity.” -Thomas Jefferson

Love,
Matthew

Doctor Communis!!!! Doctor Angelicus!!!! Ora pro nobis!!!!

“Labor while it is yet day.” -St Ambrose, (340-397 AD), Doctor & Father of the Church

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“Give thanks, Brethren, to the Divine Mercy which has brought you safely halfway through the season of Lent. For this favor they give praise to God, thankfully and with devotion, who in these days have striven to live in the manner which they were instructed at the beginning of Lent; that is, those who, coming with eagerness to the Church, have sought with sighs and tears, in daily fasting and alms deeds, to obtain the forgiveness of their sins.

They, however, who have neglected this duty, that is to say, those who have not fasted daily, or given alms, or those who were indifferent or unmoved in prayer, they have no reason to rejoice, but rather, unhappy that they are, for mourning. Yet let them not mourn as if they had no hope; for He Who could give back sight to the blind from birth (cf. Jn 9), can likewise change those who now are lukewarm and indifferent into souls fervent and zealous in His service, if with their whole heart they desire to be converted unto Him. Let such persons acknowledge their own blindness of heart, and let them draw near to the Divine Physician that they may be restored to sight.

Would that you might seek the medicine of the soul when you have sinned, as you seek that of the body when you are ill in the flesh. Who now in this so great assembly were he condemned, not to be put to death, but to be deprived of his sight only, would not give all he possessed to escape the danger? And if you so fear the death of the flesh, what do you not fear more than the death of the spirit, especially since the pains of death, that is, of the body, are but of an hour, whilst the death of the soul, that is, its punishment and its grieving, has no end? And if you love the eyes of your body, that you soon will lose in death, why do you not love those eyes of the soul by which you may see your Lord and your God forever?

Labor therefore, Beloved Children in the Lord, labor while it is yet day; for as Christ Our Lord says, The night cometh, when no man can work (Jn 9:4) Daytime is this present life; night is death, and the time that follows death. If after this life there is no more freedom to work, as the Truth tells us, why then does every man not labor while he yet lives in this world?

Be fearful, Brethren, of this death, of which the Savior says: The night cometh, when no man can work. All those who now work evil are without fear of this death, and because of this, when they depart from this life they shall encounter everlasting death. Labor while yet ye live, and particularly in these days; fasting from delicate fare, withholding yourselves at all time from evil works. For those that abstain from food, but do not withhold themselves from wickedness, are like to the devil, who while he eats not, yet never ceases from evildoing. And lastly, you must know that what you deny yourself in fasting, you must give to heaven in the poor.

Fulfill in work, Brethren, the lesson of this day . . . lest there come upon you the chastisement of the Jews. For they said to the blind man: Be thou his disciple (Jn 9:28). What does being a disciple of Christ mean if not to be an imitator of His compassion, and a follower of His truth and humility? But they said this meaning to curse the man. Instead it is a truly great blessing, to which may you also attain, by His grace Who liveth and reigneth unto ages of ages. Amen.”

St. Ambrose, Sermon on Lent

Love,
Matthew

“We are saved by those we despise.” -Pope St Gregory the Great

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-by Dr. C. Colt Anderson, PhD

Saint Gregory the Great taught that God uses the people we despise to save us. This does not necessarily mean people that we hate, but people we think little of or that we see as impure. Those who we see as steeped in sin today often surpass us in holiness tomorrow. His example of such a person was St. Paul, who participated in the brutal murder of St. Stephen before becoming the Apostle to the Gentiles. In the Forty Gospel Homilies, Gregory preached that God places these people in the Church so that we are forced to recognize our own imperfection. They highlight the contrast between the richness of God’s mercy and the littleness of our own judgments.

Humble Christians, who have a sense of their imperfection, are able to be sympathetic to the struggles of sinners. Humility breaks through the walls of the self and allows the Christian to love others. For Gregory, love always involves an extension or gift of self to another, which is not really possible for people who feel self-satisfied and self-sufficient. This type of love, which he called the bond of charity, can only be learned in a community and can only be achieved through humility.

The bond of charity is central to Gregory’s spirituality and his understanding of the Church. He believed Christ’s perfect and solid uprightness (soliditas standi) is not given to His followers through the grace of redemption; instead, Christians are justified through the firmness of love (soliditas caritatis) found in the Church. Since God only accepts the humble and contrite heart, and since God rejects the proud, the effort to extend ourselves to those we despise is an integral part of the process of sanctification. In fact, the Church purifies us by demanding this extension of patience, love, and mercy to those we despise.

This dynamic is also why there are so many irritating people in the Church. We need people who are irritating, offensive, and even wicked, in order to exercise patience, mercy, and forgiveness. The Church brings us all together so that we can learn to be like God. It is a mixed community: good fish and bad fish, sheep and goats, wheat and tares. If I am irritating you, I might be serving as an opportunity to grow in holiness. You’re welcome.

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The fact that God frequently moves the people we may see as sinful to great holiness also inspires hope. It shows us that we should not ever give up on anyone. If your son or daughter, aunt or uncle, mother or father, friend or spouse has fallen away and seems steeped in sin, realize that they may yet excel in holiness.

Because we are saved by those we despise, we must welcome people to our communion and avoid attitudes and actions that discourage them from entering or returning to our community, which is what Pope Francis has been emphasizing. The challenge, of course, is to stop despising anyone, which I must confess I have not quite mastered.

If you are comfortable with despising people and wish to exclude the impure, you may have fallen into the sin of Donatism, a heresy that seeks a pure Church on Earth. The new Donatism is growing increasingly evident.

Lord, save & protect us, help us love one another, especially when that is most inconceivable. We shall receive mercy from You in proportion as we offer it to those we despise. Help us love one another, for our own sake. Be merciful to us, Lord, for we have done what is evil in Your sight.

Love,
Matthew

St Thomas Aquinas’ 5 Remedies for sadness

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I suffer from clinical depression.  I was diagnosed in 1994; meds, therapy, the whole nine yards.  So sadness to me is not unfamiliar or infrequent.  It is a cursed associate:  soul & body, body & soul.

In Roman Catholicism, the theology of the body is based on the belief that the human body has its origin in God. It will be, like the body of Jesus, Resurrected, transformed and taken into heavenly glory.

“Man, though made of body and soul, is a unity” (GS 14 § 1). The doctrine of the faith affirms that the spiritual and immortal soul is created immediately by God.”  -CCC 382

On certain days we have all been sad, days when we have been unable to overcome an inner torpor or depression that weighs down on us and makes it difficult to interact with others. Is there a trick for overcoming sorrow and recovering our smile? St. Thomas Aquinas suggests five remedies against sadness that have proven surprisingly effective (Summa Theologiae, I–II, q. 38).

The first remedy is granting ourselves something we like. It’s as though the famous theologian had already intuited seven centuries ago that “chocolate is an antidepressant.” (YEAH!! 🙂 )This might seem a bit materialistic, but no one would deny that a tough day can end well with a good beer (DOUBLE YEAH!!!). It’s hard to refute this by citing the Gospel, since our Lord took part joyfully in banquets and feasts, and both before and after his Resurrection enjoyed the noble and good things in life. One of the Psalms even says that wine gladdens the human heart (although the Bible also clearly condemns getting drunk).

The second remedy is weeping. St. Thomas says “a hurtful thing hurts yet more if we keep it shut up, because the soul is more intent on it: whereas if it be allowed to escape, the soul’s intention is dispersed as it were on outward things, so that the inward sorrow is lessened” (I-II q. 38 a. 2). Our melancholy gets worse if we have no way to give vent to our sorrow. Weeping is the soul’s way to release a sorrow that can become paralyzing. Jesus too wept. And Pope Francis said that “certain truths in life can only be seen with eyes cleansed by tears. I invite each of you to ask yourself: Have I learned how to cry?”

The third remedy is sharing our sorrow with a friend. I recall here the friend of Renzo in Manzoni’s great novel The Betrothed. Finding himself alone in his deserted home ravaged by the plague and mourning his family’s horrible fate, he tells Renzo: “What has happened is horrible, something that I never thought I would live to see; it’s enough to take away a person’s joy for the rest of his life. But speaking about these things with a friend is a great help.” This is something we have to experience in order to understand it. When we are sad, we tend to see everything in tints of gray. A very effective antidote is opening our heart to a friend. Sometimes a brief message or phone call is enough for our outlook to once again be filled with light.

The fourth remedy against sadness is contemplating the truth. Contemplating the “fulgor veritatis” St. Augustine speaks of, the splendor of truth in nature or a work of art or music, can be an effective balm against sadness. A literary critic, a few days after the death of a dear friend, was scheduled to speak at a conference about the topic of adventure in the works of Tolkien. He began by saying: “Speaking about beautiful things to people interested in them is for me a real consolation …” Amen.

The fifth remedy suggested by St. Thomas is perhaps something we wouldn’t expect from a medieval thinker. The theologian says that a wonderful remedy against sadness is bathing and sleeping. Amen. It’s a deeply Christian viewpoint that in order to alleviate a spiritual malady one will sometimes have to resort to a bodily remedy. Ever since God became Man, and therefore took on a body, the separation between matter and spirit has been overcome in this world of ours.

A widespread error is that Christianity is based on the opposition between soul and body (a deadly heresy, actually…), with the latter being seen as a burden or obstacle for the spiritual life. But the right view of Christian humanism is that the human person (both body and soul) is completely “spiritualized” by seeking union with God.

No one thinks it strange to seek out a physician who cares for the body as a guide for a spiritual illness,” says St. Thomas More. “The body and soul are so closely united that together they form a single person, and hence a malady of one can sometimes be a malady of both. Therefore, I would advise everyone, when confronted with a physical illness, to first go to confession, and seek out a good spiritual doctor for the health of their soul. Likewise for some sicknesses of the soul, besides going to the spiritual physician, one should also go to a physician who cares for the body.”

Love, and always praying for your well being. Give Praise to our Creator Who wonderfully made us!!!
Matthew

Dec 14 – the path to nothing…

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-El Monte Carmelo

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Br Constantius Sanders, OP

St. John of the Cross is probably best known for his masterpiece on the spiritual life The Dark Night of the Soul. But it is his commentary and exposition on The Dark Night, entitled The Ascent of Mount Carmel, that is likely his most helpful work. In it, he describes three paths that souls may follow in their spiritual life. Two are wide, one is narrow. The two wide paths are labeled “the goods of heaven” and “the goods of earth.” The narrow path is labeled simply as “nothing.” Each of the paths aims to lead up the mountain to God, but only one path makes it. While the Christian knows that the goods of earth alone do not lead a soul to God, St. John of the Cross also dismisses the path of the goods of heaven. Only the path of nothingness leads us to God. And while it is a path with nothing on it, I think we can still use the benefit of a guide along the journey. And there may be no better guide than St. John of the Cross.

The goods of heaven and the goods of earth listed by St. John of the Cross compose a rather attractive list: rest, consolation, knowledge, joy, and glory. It is a collection of goods that would be hard to refuse. But, when goods other than God are sought, we are paradoxically unable to possess them. As he says, “The more I desired to possess them, the less I had.” When sought for their own sake, they lose what makes them truly good. For example, it is impossible to simply find joy. One must find it in something or someone else. In the spiritual life, when we desire not joy, but God, we end up possessing both. Or, as he puts it, “Now that I no longer desire them, I have them all without desire.”

But, the real goal remains ahead: God alone. St. John still serves as our guide. He is one who has gone through it and is showing us the way. He helps keep our gaze firmly on what is truly good and worthy of our love. But, this path of nothing is nonetheless full. It is filled with the witness, teaching, and prayers of saints. While we seek God alone, we know we are never alone: a cloud of witnesses surrounds us.

The example of numerous witnesses attests to the wisdom of St. John of the Cross. He has been a guide for such figures as St. Thérèse of Lisieux, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Holy Cross (Edith Stein), and Pope St. John Paul II. In fact, it was under the guidance of another great theologian, the Dominican master Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange, that a young Karol Wojtyla wrote a dissertation on the thought of St. John of the Cross. Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange had long been a proponent of the consistency of thought between the scholastic insights of St. Thomas Aquinas and the mystical ones of St. John of the Cross. It was with his consultation that St. John of the Cross was named a Doctor of the Church. And that “doctoral” status may be as good a reason as any to trust him as our guide.”

“To possess all, do not possess anything at all. To be all, be nothing of nothing . . .” -St John of the Cross

Love,
Matthew

Dec 7 – Called to be a contradiction

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-by Br Albert Thomas Dempsey, OP

“Today, the Church celebrates the feast of one of her great doctors, St. Ambrose of Milan, who offers us a model of public Christian witness.

In 374 A.D, against his own wishes, St. Ambrose became archbishop of Milan, a city riven by the Arian heresy and at that time the residence of one of the Roman co-emperors. He quickly embraced an ascetical life, gave to the poor, and reformed the liturgy of his diocese. Enduring many hardships (including, according to the Golden Legend of Bl. James of Voraigne, O.P., an assassination attempt ordered by the Western empress herself), he strove to convert the heretics of his diocese back to belief in the divinity of Christ, soon establishing a reputation as an eloquent speaker and a prolific author on Christian doctrine. In fact, his intelligent exposition of the Christian faith played an instrumental role in the conversion of St. Augustine, whom St. Ambrose baptized in 387 A.D.

St. Ambrose’s life and writings remain a stirring example of the apostolic life, one combining prayer with tireless effort for the salvation of souls. Preacher and scholar, liturgical reformer and defender of the poor, refuter of error and loving shepherd of wayward Christians: the holy archbishop of Milan showed the compatibility of roles too often assumed to be mutually exclusive in our present age.

Since we live at a time in which civil authorities are often at odds with Church teachings, perhaps St. Ambrose is most exemplary as a champion of Christianity in the face of civil excesses. As a prominent churchman and archbishop of an imperial capital, the saint often interacted with the potentates of his day. On three occasions, St. Ambrose, himself a former magistrate, championed the liberty of the faith in the face of imperial encroachment. In 385 A.D., he refused to allow Valentinian II to quarter Arian soldiers in a basilica. In 388 A.D., when a certain bishop expressed his opinion in a way that angered the emperor Theodosius, Ambrose challenged Theodosius’ punishment that the bishop use Church funds to rebuild a house of worship for unbelievers. Most famously, St. Ambrose excommunicated Theodosius for ordering the massacre of 7,000 civilians in the city of Thessalonica. According to St. Augustine, the emperor responded to his chastisement with humility and did penance for his sins; St. Ambrose himself spoke movingly at the emperor’s funeral of the emperor’s contrition for his sin and fortitude in offering public penance. This of course is the salubrious purpose of ecclesiastical censures: to prevent the sinner from inducing others to sin and to encourage him to repent.

Since ours is a time when civil authorities increasingly countenance — and even engage in — immoral activities, St. Ambrose’s courageous actions show us that Christians cannot remain silent. All too often, Americans believe that the separation of Church and State necessitates the exclusion of religious belief from the public sphere. However, St. Ambrose anticipated many of these concerns in a letter pleading with Theodosius not to force the Church to rebuild a non-Christian house of worship: “But it is neither the part of an Emperor to deny liberty of speech, nor of a Bishop not to utter what he thinks.” He continues:

‘For there is this difference between good and bad rulers, that the good love freedom, the bad slavery. And there is nothing in a Bishop so offensive in God’s sight, or so base before men, as not freely to declare his opinions… I prefer then, to have fellowship with your Majesty in good rather than in evil; and therefore the silence of a Bishop ought to be displeasing to your Clemency, and his freedom pleasing. For you will be implicated in the danger of my silence, you will share in the benefits of my outspokenness. I am not then an officious meddler in matters beyond my province, an intruder in the concerns of others, but I comply with my duty, I obey the commandment of our God. This I do chiefly from love and regard to you, and from a wish to preserve your well-being. But if I am not believed, or am forbidden to act on this motive, then in truth I speak from fear of offending God. (Ambrose, Epist. XL.2-3, trans. H. Walford, 1881)’

By faith, Catholics believe that certain actions, such as murder and perjury, are objectively evil, regardless of whether or not the person performing them is a Christian. In such cases, it is, in fact, a work of mercy to rebuke the sinner. Moreover, the Church’s mission is to save all mankind, Catholics and non-Catholics, clergy and rulers, by leading them to accept the deposit of faith entrusted to her. For this reason, and on account of the superiority of the spiritual to the temporal, Pope Boniface VIII wrote in his bull Unam Sanctam, “It belongs to the spiritual power … to pass judgment [on the earthly power] if it has not been good.”

As Christians, we are called to be signs of contradiction. At times, this can mean speaking against the decisions of civil authorities, not seditiously, but for the salvation of all concerned. Doing so, however, in no way diminishes the dignity of Church or State by confusing what ought to remain separate; rather, it affirms the universal scope of the Christian faith and the integrity of all aspects of Christian living, spiritual and political. Let us pray then, through the intercession of St. Ambrose, to be faithful citizens.

Love, and a hopeful witness for the Lord,
Matthew

Advent, 4th, 5th, & 6th Circumstances – St Bernard of Clairvaux, Doctor of the Church

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-The Vision of St Bernard, by Fra Bartolomeo, 1504, Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy

Circumstance 4: For what end must we believe that He came?

“This question is the next in order to be examined; nor will the search demand much labour, for the end and purpose of His coming is proclaimed by His words and His works. To seek after the one sheep of the hundred that had strayed He hastened from the mountains. For our sake He came down from heaven, that His mercies and His wonders might be openly proclaimed to the children of men. O wonderful condescension of God in this search! O wonderful dignity of man who is thus sought! If he should wish to glory in this dignity, it would not be imputed to him as folly. Not that he need think anything of himself, but let him rejoice that He Who made him should set so high a value on him. For all the riches and glory of the world, all that is desirable therein, is far below this glory–nay, can bear no comparison with it. “Lord, what is man that thou should magnify him? and why settest thou thy heart upon him?” (cf Job 7:17).

I still further desire to know why He should come to us, and not we rather go to Him, for the need was on our side, and it is not usual for the rich to go to the poor, though otherwise willing to assist them. It was indeed our place to go forward to Him, but there stood a twofold impediment in the way; for our eyes were heavy, and He “dwelt in light inaccessible.” We lay as paralytics on our beds, and could not raise ourselves to the Divine elevation. Wherefore this most benign Saviour and Physician of souls descended to us from His lofty throne, and tempered His brightness to the weakness of our sight. He clothed Himself with His most glorious and spotless body as with the shade of a lantern, thus attempering to us His splendour. This is that bright and shining cloud upon which the Lord was to descend upon Egypt, as the Prophet Isaiah foretold. (cf Isaiah 19:1).

Circumstance 5: It is now fitting that we should consider the time of our Lord’s coming.

He came, as you know, not in the beginning, nor in the midst of time, but in the end of it. This was no unsuitable choice, but a truly wise dispensation of His infinite wisdom, that He might afford help when He saw it was most needed. Truly, “it was evening, and the day was far (Luke 24:29); the sun had well nigh set, and but a faint ray of his justice light and heat remained on earth. The light of Divine knowledge was very small, and as iniquity abounded, the fervour of charity had grown cold. No angel appeared, no prophet spoke. The angelic vision and the prophetic spirit alike had passed away, both hopelessly baffled by the exceeding obduracy and obstinacy of mankind. Then it was that the Son of God said “Behold, I come” (Hebrews 10:7). And “while all things were in quiet silence, and the night was in the midst of her course, the almighty word leaped down from heaven from thy royal throne” (Wisdom 18:14-15). Of this coming the Apostle speaks: “When the fullness of time was come, God sent his Son” (Galatians 4:4). The plenitude and affluence of things temporal had brought on the oblivion and penury of things eternal. Fitly, therefore, did the Eternal God come when things of time were reigning supreme. To pass over other points, such was the temporal peace at the birth of Christ that by the edict of one man the whole world was enrolled.

You have now heard Who He is that comes, whence, whither, and to whom He comes; the cause, likewise, and the time of His coming are known to you.

Circumstance 6: One point is yet to be considered namely, the way by which He came.

This must be diligently examined, that we may, as is fitting, go forth to meet Him. As He once came visibly in the body to work our salvation in the midst of the earth, so does He come daily invisibly and in spirit to work the salvation of each individual soul; as it is written: “The Spirit before our face, Christ the Lord.” And that we might know this spiritual advent to be hidden, it is said: “Under his shadow we shall live among the Gentiles” (Lamentations 4:20). Wherefore, if the infirm cannot go far to meet this great Physician, it is at least becoming they should endeavour to raise their heads and lift themselves a little to greet their Saviour. For this, O man, you are not required to cross the sea, to penetrate the clouds, to scale the mountain-tops. No lofty way is set before you. Turn within thyself to meet thy God, for the Word is nigh in thy mouth and in thy heart. Meet Him by compunction of heart and by confession of mouth, or, at least, go forth from the corruption of a sinful conscience, for it is not becoming that the Author of purity should enter there.

It is delightful to contemplate the manner of His visible coming, for His “ways are beautiful, and all his paths are peace” (Proverbs 3:17). “Behold,” says the Spouse of the Canticles, He cometh leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills” (Song of Songs 2:8). You see Him coming, O beautiful one, but His previous lying down you could not see, for you said: “Shew me, O thou whom my soul loveth, where thou feedest, where thou liest” (Song of Songs 1:7). He lay feeding His angels in His endless eternity with the vision of His glorious, unchanging beauty. But know, O beautiful one, that that vision is become wonderful to thee ; it is high, and thou canst not reach it. Nevertheless, behold He hath gone forth from His holy place, and He that had lain feeding His angels hath undertaken to heal us. We shall see Him coming as our food, Whom we were not able to behold while He was feeding His angels in His repose. “Behold, he cometh leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills.” The mountains and hills we may consider to be the Patriarchs and the Prophets, and we may see His leaping and skipping in the book of His genealogy. “Abraham begot Isaac, Isaac begot Jacob” (Matthew 1:2), etc. From the mountains came forth the root of Jesse, as you will find from the Prophet Isaiah: “There shall come forth a rod out of the root of Jesse, and a flower shall rise up out of his root, and the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him” (Isaiah 11:1-2a). The same prophet speaks yet more plainly: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel, which is interpreted, ‘God with us’ ” (Isaiah 7:14). He Who is first styled a flower is afterwards called Emmanuel, and in the rod is named the virgin. But we must reserve for another day further consideration of this sublime mystery, as there is ample material for another sermon, especially as to-day’s has been rather long.”

Love, Joyful Advent, He comes!!!
Matthew

Advent, 2nd & 3rd Circumstance – St Bernard of Clairvaux, Doctor of the Church

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-St Bernard of Clairvaux, as shown in the church of Heiligenkreuz Abbey near Baden bei Wien, Lower Austria. Portrait (1700) with the true effigy of the Saint by Georg Andreas Wasshuber (1650-1732), (painted after a statue in Clairvaux with the true effigy of the saint)

Circumstances 2 and 3: Behold, you have heard Who He is that comes; consider now whence and to whom He comes.

“He comes from the heart of God the Father to the womb of a virgin mother; He comes from the highest heaven to this low earth, that we whose conversation is now on earth may have Him for our most desirable companion. For where can it be well with us without Him, and where ill if He be present? “What have I in heaven, and besides Thee what do I desire upon earth? Thou art the God of my heart and the God that is my portion for ever” (Psalm 73:25-26) and “though I should walk in the midst of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil,” if only “thou art with me” (Psalm 23:4).

But here I see that our Lord descends not only to earth, but even to hell; not as one bound, but as free among the dead; as light that shines in the darkness, “and the darkness did not comprehend it.” Wherefore His soul was not left in hell, nor did His holy body on earth see corruption. For Christ “that descended is the same also that ascended…that he might fill all things” (Ephesians 4:10) “who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed by the devil” (Acts 10:38). And elsewhere we read, He “hath exalted as a giant to run his way…His going forth is from the highest heavens, and his circuit even to the end thereof” (cf Psalm 19:7). Well might St. Paul cry out: “Seek the things that are above, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God” (Colossians 3:1). In vain would the Apostle labour to raise our hearts upwards if he did not teach us that the Author of our salvation is sitting in heaven.

But what follows? The matter here is indeed abundant in the extreme; but our limited time does not admit of a lengthened development. By considering Who He is that comes, we see His supreme and ineffable majesty, and by contemplating whence He comes, we behold the great highway clearly laid out to us. The Prophet Isaiah says: “Behold, the name of the Lord cometh from afar” (Isaiah 30:27). By reflecting whither He comes, we see His inestimable and inconceivable condescension in His descending from highest heavens to abide with us in this miserable prison-house. Who can doubt that there was some grand cause powerful enough to move so sovereign a Majesty to come “from afar,” and condescend to enter a place so unworthy of Him as this world of ours. The cause was in truth great. It was His immense mercy, His multiplied compassion, His abundant charity.”

Love, Joyful Advent!! He comes!!!
Matthew